Friday, August 25, 2006

colbert on wikipedia (i.e. rumor bombs)

Recently, Stephen Colbert, perhaps the greatest and funniest living cultural critic, directed his energies at one of the most fascinating contemporary cultural phenomenons, wikipedia. Clearly, he sees this phenomenon not as the propitious liberation of knowledge production from managing elites but as yet another fake substitute for political democracy, as much a tool of elites who love the war over truth as a threat to them. Wikipedia, in other words, may function as a rumor bomb, where the crisis for verification, supplanted by belief and desire, continues. Click Click Click!


Steve said...

I really agree with Colbert on this one. I think the biggest problem we face is that our public is so overwhelmed with the tidal wave of information they can no longer distinguish what is real and what is unreal. The Wikipedia is a brilliant example, and Colbert's method of illumination is great. Unfortunately, he's just a few more drops in that ole wave. When our major media no longer seems to care about journalistic standards, quality of information presented, or evenhandedness of their reporting, all we have left is opinion, making the facts no longer relevant for the average person - a critical component of making the rumor bomb effective.

Jayson said...

In a nutshell, I'd say that the desire to watch and sift through "news" in the U.S. today comes from an irrational though thoroughly human desire to reinforce one's beliefs about good and bad, true and false, how the world works as one has already understood it and invested in it (sometimes literally with $). Thus, some go to Bill O'Reilley, Sean Hannity, or Rush Limbaugh, and others go to Noam Chomsky, Indymedia, NPR, or the Nation, while still others (most probably) go to E-entertainment, People magazine,etc. (there's a war going on in Iraq? There are terrorists trying to strike in the U.S. and elsewhere? I have an opinion, but let the experts handle it (or alternately, "Fuck the experts; I don't trust them [I should be calling the shots]." As many modern founders of democracies have reflected, robust civic care in a complex world must have strong educational foundations and cultural values that revere them. The U.S. has neither an education system that serves equally ALL its citizens nor the widespread cultural values to support constant careful criticism and critical thinking skills (themselves served by historical knowledge). I agree that the information people get is poor and is more often spin than an attempt to present the complexity of events and problems. But a news economy (afterall, it is a business whose bottom line is profit, even though democracy and news are not toasters!] is only able to do that because its audience is not prepared to critically evaluate its practices and reject them (this is the weakness of the "free market" when applied especially to news). People do not make themselves, at least completely. And any mature democracy, whatever that means today, must think seriously about what sort of tools, formation, it wants to give its citizens. And here school is more than a building and teachers with un-ironic retro polyester dresses and blue beehives. It's also what kids learn from parents and popular culture about what matters. "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance," said Jefferson. But vigilance is not born; its is made.

Steve said...

Yeah. Without a doubt you are right about that. And we've done everything possible to weaken every link in the chain that binds the whole thing together.

I'm left feeling the US is on the verge of self-destruction, and don't care to be part of it. And I know a lot of people who feel the same way. But it seems we're powerless to do anything to make a change because the rot goes right to the core.

What's left? Leave?